It's no mystery that babies, toddlers, older children, and even adults cry and throw fits. It is also no mystery that some of these toddlers, older children and adults are crying to manipulate their parents, boy/girlfriend, boss, police officer, etc. But only the ones who have learned that crying changes the outcome of a situation will do this. Others are just crying because, well, life sucks sometimes and humans cry.
Many parents think their children are crying to manipulate them, and in reality, some are. But to think that infants are manipulative is outrageous in my opinion. I cringe every time I hear someone telling a mother that their tiny baby is trying to manipulate them! Manipulate them to do what!? Feed them? Comfort them in a time of stress? They know nothing of the world other than their need for food, comfort, and a secure attachment/trust from their caregivers. They are simply trying to meet their primal needs for survival and bond with their family! For an infant there is NO difference between a want and a need.
Toddlers are another story. Their brains are growing and developing at a rapid rate. They are learning all about social interactions, emotions, and how they fit into their ever growing world. Their brains are extremely immature, yet they have a strong desire to explore their world and establish autonomy. Toddlers cry for a lot of reasons, A LOT. They cry when they are hurt, they cry when they are sad, they cry when the pancake that they themselves bit into has a bite taken out of it! They also tend to cry when they don't get their way, when they are overstimulated or when their imagination is greater than their ability. Again, the toddler is NOT trying to manipulate you! They haven't read the book, they don't even know what manipulation is!
What they are trying to do is figure out how to act/react in in this big, overwhelming, and sometimes scary world of theirs. They are also watching how you will react. They are a l w a y s watching! They are looking for you to set reasonable boundaries, to keep them safe, and to be there as a source of comfort when things get tough. Toddler have huge and very real emotions. Here is where the idea of manipulation can get tricky. Toddler-hood is the time when you as a parent can either teach your toddler to manipulate you with tears, or you can teach them that tears do not change the outcome of the situation, but they are always allowed to cry and fully feel their emotions.
Teaching your child how not to manipulate with tears will look something like this. Your two year old wants ice cream at 8:30 in the morning. Okay fine, my two year old wants ice cream 8:30 in the morning. You tell them no and they proceed to throw a fit. They are screaming and crying and possibly thrashing and kicking. Remember, they are genuinely upset, not trying to manipulate you. You offer empathy, "You are upset, you really wanted some ice cream. But we can not have ice cream right now. Would you like some oatmeal?" They will probably scream, "NOOOO" as if their life depended on it and continue to cry. Fine, still not trying to manipulate. You will then let them feel their feelings without squelching them or becoming upset with them. You will allow your toddler to cry and get out all of the upset they are feeling about not getting what they want. And then, when they are done, you will be a safe place for a hug and a quick chat about what happened. Then you and your toddler will move on to bigger and better things...like crying when their oatmeal isn't the right color. Did I mention toddlers cry a lot?
Now, if you do want to teach your toddler how to manipulate you with tears then you will give them the ice cream right when they start to cry, or even more effective, after then have been crying for a while. You could also bribe them to stop crying with something else you know they really really like.
See how it works? They initially cry because they are genuinely upset, not to manipulate. But if you give in when tears fall, children learn very quickly to cry in order to get what they want and before you know it, yes, your child is manipulating you with tears. This is not to say that once you set these boundaries your child will stop crying when they don't get what they want. Trust me, they still will. It's just that you will know that they aren't trying to change your mind, they already know that you won't. But remember, that doesn't change the fact that they are upset and need to feel their feeling. Parents, please allow your children to feel their feelings! *Yes, all of them!
So what can potentially change things? Words. Calm, thoughtful words that
And yes, I am already dreading the day that my kid can outsmart me. It's coming...
*I'm working on a post about the emotional needs of children and how incredibly important they are to meet. This post is turning out to be very difficult to write. It might be a while.